Two things happened on my bike today, one which is about advertising and the other isn’t but both are about public space and it’s uses and controls.
One: who owns the street sign posts
This morning I rode my bike to a not-so-close subway stop because I had to run into Manhattan for a meeting and make another meeting in Brooklyn right after that one. And I was late. I get to the station, find a street sign to lock up to, and the guy hawking the Daily News comes up to me yelling. He tells me that is his sign, and that he is going to lock up his newspaper rack AND stool to it, and I have to go find somewhere else. I tell him he doesn’t own the street sign and start locking up, and he says that if I do that he will simply lock his rack up around my bike and I will not be able to get it out. And I’m running late.
As I scuffled off around the corner to find another street sign on the next block my head was full of expletives, but now, sitting on the ferry to Staten Island I am a bit more calm about it, but I have nagging questions: who owns the space. Who has the right to lock what to signs. Are the rights of individuals different than those of corporations. What about corporations acting via pseudo-independent citizens like the Daily News guy. And what is the answer in principle, what is the law’s answer, and how wide is the gap?
Two: obeying the law like an obedient dog.
I ride the Staten Island ferry three times a week to teach at the College of Staten Island. Sometimes I am on bicycle (not as often this semester as I would like) and usually I have a backpack full of books, student papers and my daily rations for my excursion into the crypto-suburbs. Almost every time I pass through the threshold of security I am eyed by the man with the bomb dog. About half of the time he asks me to take my bag off and let his dog inspect it. But every time one of the bomb-dog-men tells me to take off my bag for inspection he says it as if I should already know that I was supposed to take it off for him.
Today I’m running late (its the theme for today) and I am trotting towards the door to the downstairs bikes-only segregated waiting area in my bike shoes (which means I can’t go very fast), and the man yells out “Hey! You!” and points at me. He is jogging over to me. He simply points to the ground. I’ve done this enough times that I have internalized this procedure. I remove my bag and put it on the floor. Take two steps back. You always have to step back from the bag — as if it is a bomb… The dog sniffs it for 10 seconds. Walks back to his master, and the master walks away.
It is amazing that I have been interpolated into the bomb-dog-man’s vocabulary of power. He calls out short commands, I stop, and respond. He points to the ground. I know what the command means, and do as commanded. I am an obedient, well disciplined dog in the dog master’s control society.